Arashiyama 嵐山 offers a breath of fresh air when the many similar temple-visits in Kyoto City gets a little humdrum. Located in the western part of the city, Arashiyama is often said to be a less explored area since most tourist guidebooks do not offer much explanation. True enough when I reached there last winter, there were a gazillion Japanese tourists mulling around and very little gaijin.
My first stop was the much talked about Bamboo Forest. Located just about 5 mins on foot from the JR Saga-Arashiyama station, the bamboo forest offers a sanctuary of greenery and peace. Yes green even in the dead of winter.
The whole forest takes about 15 mins to explore. I reckon it would be refreshing to go there during summer. There were a few rickshaw stations where the service to explore the entire area is provided.
Somewhere in the Bamboo Forest is a shrine called Nonomiya Jinja. According to the Kyoto City Office, Imperial princesses who served at Ise Shrine first resided there to purify themselves. The shrine today is dedicated to the main deity – the sun goddess and to the deity of fire. For generations, emperors sent unmarried daughters to serve at Ise Shrine, where they were known as Saigu. A princess who was set up as a Saigu first spent at least one year undergoing purification within the Imperial Palace, before moving to Nonomiya Jinja. After 3 years of purification there, she will then be taken in a procession to Ise. I for one cannot imagine 3 years of purification and no internet in my life.
Didn’t know people hunt Bamboo with guns! LOL!
The almost full moon illuminates the night. It was the middle of December and that’s when the Hanatouro 花灯路 – somewhat a festival of lights takes place. During the Hanatouro the Arashiyama area will be illuminated with street lights, starting from the bamboo fores all the way to the Togetsukyo Bridge. The official website offers beautiful images of the lighted place. Truly mystical but when I reached there. . .
… I was attacked by a stampede of people and it was generally impossible to take a nice shot.
The funny thing is, there were a lot of Japanese taking pictures using their mobile phones and here I was wondering how on earth will their photo turn out when my DSLR produced lousy shots like the one below…
There were apparently many old men with their camera gear camping at the entrance of the forest waiting for sundown. (Mind you only the older folks handle DSLRs there and the young, well they whip out their mobile phones instead) I didn’t go equipped and didn’t expect to see so many people there so naturally my spirits were a little dampened. What to do? I checked out people instead.
So I spotted a photographer squatting down taking photos in the opposite direction while the rest of the people just walked by and I wondered if he was some ecchi guy photographing pantsu shots. I waited for him to leave and angled my camera in the same position as he did and bingo… he was trying to capture the moon in the middle of the clearing of the trees. Lovely! Now if only I had a better lens! haha
Next stop: Tenryu-ji (天龍寺) Literally Sky Dragon Temple
The temple was established in 1339 by the Shogun Ashikaga Takauji on the site of the Kameyama Detached Palace, for the purpose of consoling the spirit of Emperor Go-Daigo. (I have no idea who these great people are as their names do not appear in the Playstation Samurai Warriors game that I played LOL)
Anyway, behind the Hojo (Main Hall) is the Sogenchi Garden, which has been designated a Special Historic Site and a Special Historic Scenic Area. This garden, designed in the stroll-around style, retains the same form as when it was designed by Muso Soseki in the fourteenth century.
So I strolled around, climbed up some steps and had my fulfilling Onigiri lunch there.
The Togetsu-kyo, or Moon-Crossing Bridge, is a famous bridge built in the Heian Period, and spans across the Hozo river. In the spring, one can see a beautiful array of sakura along the banks of the river and in autum, the mountains displays a picturesque of Momiji紅葉. In Winter… well you get the dried stuff. Almost dried river, dried plants, dry air etc. LOL
Beyond the river are some restaurants, a monkey park and one can even go boating. I took a 1km walk up stream (2 km when you have to come back out) because I was beckoned by a sign that says 絶景 (absolute scenery or superb view).
There is much peace in the scenery as I made my way out. Didn’t dare to even put on my earphones as they say you need to keep your eyes and ears open when trekking alone… and it WAS getting dark. I was getting freaked out… by my own thoughts. LOL
This was the map I “relied” on. You can see this as you step out of the station. I snapped a shot of it thinking it will help me find my way but… it wasn’t very useful for me cause after I snapped it i snapped a gazillion other pictures so when I needed the map, I had to scroll all the way back in my DSLR. Very smart dice!
Nevertheless, Arashiyama obviously offers more than I posted up. Tourists who bought the 1day city bus pass will find that it’s invalid in this area. One can reach Arashiyama by the local trains on the Sagano Line that departs from Kyoto main station. You stop at Saga Arashiyama Station. That’s the one i took since its covered by JR. If you are elsewhere in the city and no where near the main Kyoto Station, the Tozai subway line that runs through the city will take you to Nijo Station where you can then transfer to the Sagano Line and it will then take you to Saga Arashiyama.